Wally Santana, Associated Press
In this Aug. 20, 2011 file photo, a smiling same sex female couple stand by their cake during a mass wedding at a night club in Taipei, Taiwan, when 60 same sex female couples tied the knot during this mass wedding in the nation that does not legally recognize same sex marriages. While gay-rights activists around the world hailed President Barack Obama's support for same-sex marriage as a symbolic victory, for many the idea of legal unions between homosexuals is a distant dream.

Concerning the recent media discussion of same-sex marriage as a "civil right," I have some concerns. I am not sure that any marriage is considered a "civil right." I believe that I understand civil rights to be those rights that should not be denied anyone, except in extreme and reviewable cases.

However, marriage is a time-honored institution that exists for the protection of family and society in general. It is a privilege and is in place to benefit society with specific goals to care for individuals under its umbrella of protection. Of course, like any such social institution, there are many failures and misapplications of this institution. Were we to consider marriage to be a civil right, not to be denied to individuals, we would have to consider many other relationships that are now forbidden, either by law or by societal convention.

If a person chooses to marry another when either or both are still in an existing marriage, such is not allowed in order to protect either a spouse or the children. Bigamy, polygamy and adultery are usually always either illegal or at least not readily tolerated in society. If a couple are attracted to one another and they share a close blood relationship, such is most always frowned upon by law and the society, at least for genetic reasons.

Mental capacity and age are also restrictions. There are many individuals who wish to marry when one or both are significantly under the expected age for marriage (or are not deemed mentally capable by society) but still consider themselves mature and expect the right to be married without legal restriction.

If marriage is established as a "civil right," would not many of these other situations, most of which are currently viewed with public disdain, be included in that right? I am sure there are many "closet" relationships that exist in these cases who have the same argument as those who are in same-sex relationships.

I am not speaking about anything but the institution and definition of marriage. Discrimination and persecution based on a person's chosen lifestyle is abhorrent. I believe, however, that any change to marriage and what is considered legal and accepted needs to be very carefully approached and not just because someone has friends or family who are unable to be married due to the norms of society.

If the majority of the people of the United States of America choose to untangle the careful protections that are in place which protect marriage and family, we must not be surprised when we see many innocent people (notably the children of society) suffer when the protections are gone.

Joseph Buchanan has worked at the University of Utah for 34 years, currently with the technology group supporting online education.